It’s stating the obvious that banking and financial services in general are rapidly changing. As an example, there are fewer community banks today than just 10 years ago. In addition, the integrity of the overall banking system has taken some hits due to infringements made upon people’s trust due to various bank practices routinely seen in the media.
Another leading factor to the change is technology. Customers can simply go online to obtain a loan, open a savings account, take advantage of retirement planning services, and plan safe online banking at any time of day.
So, the convenience, service, and quality of QNB online banking and investing options limits the customers’ need to walk into a traditional retail branch, or office like a few years ago.
Bank consolidations are also continuing to take place, leaving committed long term institutions harder to find. Thus, customers question how long their bank will be around, much less their banker and/or advisor. This challenges commitment levels to build long term relationships, resulting in scattered and isolated product shoppers rather than comprehensive partnerships.
All of these factors and more are driving the push to commoditize banking and financial services. Thus, a bank’s overall value for example, is reduced to merely a particular product’s rate - and not necessarily the best benefit, guidance, and service.
However, J.D. Power conducted its first 2018 Retail Banking Advice Study showing that roughly 78% of those who responded said they were interested in receiving financial advice or guidance from their bank. However, only 28% said they ever received that advice.
In summary, people desire guidance and comprehensive financial consultation from their bank. The problem is few actually ever receive it.
Therefore, one of the best opportunities to remain competitive and relevant long term amidst this rapidly changing environment is for the local financial institutions to become the go-to places in their select communities for customers to easily obtain simple, yet comprehensive financial education and guidance.
Thus, knowledge is banking’s greatest asset and sharing it is it’s greatest opportunity.
Granted, there is a plethora of information online, but something powerful happens when silos are broken down, and personal financial expertise is collected and congregated for the overall well being of a client, their family, their business, and the overall community.
Is this too bold a suggestion for banks to take seriously? To actually dare to serve the greater good of their clients and communities, and strive to be the trusted resources of sound financial stewardship? For some perhaps, but there is a movement taking place, and it’s these financial service providers that, I believe, will not only survive the tides of change we face, but thrive amidst them.
Zig Ziglar once said, “the greatest way to get what you want is to help others get what they want”. Banks are in ideal positions to do just that. For many possess “vaults” of diverse financial knowledge, and these are potent assets of stability and stimulus when shared and distributed throughout our communities.
These broad skills and levels of expertise are further maximized when a team model is adopted and mixed with modern technology. This forges the differential driver necessary to deconstructing the commoditization trend taking place in the industry.
Obviously not all banks have adopted the idea of offering broad financial services, and if they have, they do not fully leverage it, but assume saying they have the service is enough.
Ideally, if banks are going to offer credit solutions and online business banking, protecting the integrity of the 5 C’s of credit should not be abandoned. Character, capacity, conditions, capital, and collateral disregarded without the proper mitigates is often a recipe that leads to disaster.
Additionally, if investment and trust services are going to be offered, they should be delivered with excellence, and not simply as a side item. For if banks leverage these solutions properly, they serve to enhance and compliment the goal of helping their clients overall financial well-being.
Lastly, if financial literacy and education is truly going to be a central motivation, it must be offered consistently throughout a community, and its principles adopted inside the organization as well.
For if local financial institutions can begin to truly become comprehensive advisors that aspire to help their customers and communities thrive across the spectrum of all their financial dreams and goals, everyone wins.
The client wins because they gain comprehensive advice, not product pushes. The financial institution wins because they build longer and deeper relationships. Communities win because sound financial stewardship practices begin to take root in families, and businesses - thus stimulating our local economies.
All of this may sound a bit optimistic to some, but what’s the alternative - the status quo? As we know, that is simply accepting the current state we are in, which could be argued isn’t the best for anyone. For many clients aren’t getting all they want from their banks and banks aren’t getting the full relationships they desire from their clients.
The challenge and opportunity rests within the financial industry. It begins with those in it, and change of heart is needed. The materialistic adage that greed is good is damaging to credibility and eroding to sustainable financial practices and stewardship.
Providing value while striving to stimulate and support the overall well being of clients and communities should be a paramount focus for banks and other financial service providers. For a healthy community supports a healthy banking system, and a sound banking system undivided in its integrity supports a healthy community.
Yet, as we know, this is easier said than done. It comes down to personal ethics and the types of people the banks attract and employ.
As an example, I recall being party to a conversation where the suggestion of unifying the talents of various internal team members could be adopted to better serve the clients’ overall needs. The reply one person had to this proposal was simply, “if it doesn’t directly benefit me, the idea is dead to me regardless of the proposed benefit to others”.
A bold stance, but at least honest. Obviously, this isn’t an outlook we need in the industry - it’s damaging. Yet, it’s quite often human nature. WIFM, or “what’s in it for me” is popularized and promoted throughout our culture.
So, how can we overcome this mindset and begin reconsidering the golden rule? Also known as doing for others as we’d like done for us. Has this old fashioned axiom been lost in time, and possesses no relevancy in business? I don’t believe so.
For example, banks, and other financial service providers can begin hosting and measuring how many financial education events they conduct in their communities and for their clients that are not solely for solicitation purposes, but rather to share supportive financial insights and strategies. These could be as broad as online security clinics, retirement and social security strategies, fraud protection, budgeting, financial planning insights, etc.
We can also seek to be more “teaming centric” rather than compartmentalized internally, and we can begin focusing not so much on products, but rather the overall services provided.
Joint appointments between internal team members unifying to help customers can be rewarded; and helping people based upon their needs and not merely their net worth can be an aspiring objective.
With these simple strategies, I have seen examples where clients with poor credit, and who had abandoned the dream of ever owning a home, were advised through a consultative team approach and over time, improved their credit scores and eventually recaptured and realized their dream of homeownership.
I have also seen multi-millionaires who had outdated, or little to no estate planning in place advised by a team they trusted to eventually establish plans that helped leave legacies that protected, distributed, and repurposed more than just their money, but their deepest desires as well.
It’s an old fashioned idea, but if we treat and help people the way we want to be treated and helped, we eventually build long term relationships. These relationships then refer others to us, and as we advise rather than commoditize services, customers are more comfortable and willing to satisfy more of their financial needs with us.
Thus, the company grows alongside our clients and communities as a partner, and not at the expense of them.